Unless you’ve been holding your breath at the bottom of the slough for the past six months, you know that we are smack in the middle of developing a new strategic plan for Augustana College. This weekend our Board of Trustees hold their annual fall meetings during which President Bahls and Dean Lawrence will provide an update to the board, answer questions, address criticisms and concerns, and work with board members to refine the strategic directions that will be prioritized in the final plan. If you haven’t done so already, I’d highly recommend that you take some time to look at the current state of this process here.
After living in the inner sanctum of this process for the last six months, I’ve been struck by how difficult it is to effectively link the abstract aspirations of vision, mission, and strategic direction with the concrete actions, specific tactics, and measurable moments that we think will prove whether or not we have accomplished our plans. If we lean too hard to one side, we could end up with little more than strategery – a word I use in all seriousness here because it manages to capture what happens when vision gets disconnected from any actual means of demonstrating its achievement on the ground (click here to see the origins of this word – we are in your debt, Will Ferrell.) And if we lean too far to the other side, we can fall into the trap of simply adding a host of new programs, policies, activities, and experiences under the flawed belief that busy is always better. If we’re honest with ourselves, I suspect we’d have to admit that we’ve driven over both of these potholes in recent years as we’ve genuinely tried to make Augustana better – in the present and for the future.
In the face of these difficulties, I understand the temptation to be silly about it and throw the strategic planning baby out with the tactical bathwater. But that would be – in a word – stupid. A primary reason why higher education is in such trouble these days is because so many institutions believed that they didn’t really have to plan ahead (or that anything might change over time) because they thought there would always be lots of students who would pay whatever the institution charged to sit at the feet of masters and learn whatever was taught.
Frankly, I really like a lot of what is going to be proposed and discussed this weekend. However, we are always faced with the challenge of following through. How are we going to walk this thing out to its fullest completion, and will we really have chosen the right metrics to demonstrate the degree to which we have achieved the goal we set out to accomplish?
All of these thoughts were bouncing around in my head as I watched two TED Talks by Derek Sivers over the weekend. Although both of them are only about three minutes long, they made me think a lot about how we might go from the laudable abstractions of mission, vision, and strategic directions to the simple, sustainable, and concrete evidence that will demonstrate to everyone whether we have reached the goals we set for ourselves.
The first TED Talk focuses on a key element of success for individuals who set goals for themselves. The crux of his point is that those who talk too much about what they intend to accomplish can sometimes fool themselves into thinking that they have already accomplished it. I’ve often heard a nearby college’s strategic plan described as, “Fake it ’til you make it.” Yet there are a myriad of colleges and universities that became more selective simply by declaring themselves to be more selective. In the end, the quality of the education they provided didn’t change a bit. In terms of making our strategic plan something worth the kilobytes it’s saved on, we might be careful to talk more about the things we need to do or be today in order to achieve our long-term goals, and talk less about publicizing the institution we will become and the prestige we will acquire as if we were already well on our way to getting there.
The second TED Talk teases out a critical and oft overlooked moment in the origins of a social movement. Sivers shows a video of an impromptu dance party on a hillside. The point he makes seems to be particularly applicable to our work once the strategic plan is finalized. Essentially, he emphasizes the leadership effect of the first follower – the individual who finds something great and has the guts to jump up and join in.
I’m sure there are several other potentially important take-aways from these clips. I wanted to share them with you in the hopes that something from them might help us move from planning to doing to being.
Make it a good day,